updated 10/6/2004 10:15:48 PM ET 2004-10-07T02:15:48

The 2004 federal deficit will hit a record $415 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday in an informal estimate likely to cause barely a blip in the presidential and congressional campaigns.

The figure, a preliminary estimate based on Treasury Department data, is $7 billion less than Congress’ nonpartisan budget scorekeeper projected just a month ago. The budget office attributed the improvement to better than expected corporate tax collections.

The administration is expected to release the final, official figure later this month — shortly before the Nov. 2 elections. The government’s 2004 budget year ended Sept. 30.

The new estimate marks an improvement over the $477 billion deficit the congressional analysts predicted in March, and the $445 billion shortfall the Bush administration said it expected in July.

Until now, the largest deficit in dollar terms was the $375 billion gap of 2003.

Despite the proliferation of huge deficit forecasts, the budget has yet to emerge as a significant issue in this year’s campaign.

Rather than focusing on the deficit, Americans have been more concerned about the war in Iraq, terrorism and the U.S. economy.

Democrats have said President Bush’s tax cuts have transformed a string of annual surpluses under President Clinton into the record red ink. Republicans have blamed the weak economy and the costs of confronting terrorism.

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